It was supposed to be a routine flying lesson out of Fresno Chandler Executive Airport, but when the Piper trainer's engine cut out in midair Monday, it quickly turned into a life or death drama in the sky for a flight instructor and his student pilot -- drama with an unexpected but happy ending, thanks to the pilots quick thinking.
"It was probably about 45 minutes into the flight," explained flight instructor Robert Jones.
Jones was conducting a flying lesson for Fresno-based, Mazzei Flying Service, shooting multiple instrument approaches into the Fresno Chandler Executive Airport.
"…and we were on final and about 400 feet and 1 ½ miles from the runway at Chandler," Jones described, "when all of a sudden the engine just went quiet. I felt the horsepower give way."
"We switched fuel tanks. That's usually a common mishap is a fuel starvation issue," but not this time, Jones continued. "That was not the issue."
Knowing he couldn't make the runway and that a densely populated neighborhood stood just in front of the airport, Jones says he looked to his side and spotted an empty field near Walnut and Church in southwest Fresno, so that's where he went.
"We were quite fast so I just brought in all the flaps, aimed for the field." But it was a field with some big poles near the end of it. Poles big enough to bring their rolling plane to an abrupt and painful stop.
"That's where I started to get a little more panicky and started drawing on the brakes a little bit," Jones related.
Fortunately, it worked and the plane came to a stop about 50 feet from the pole.
Jones and his student were able to climb out of the plane with no injuries. The plane was also undamaged.
"I'd say it's a good day," beamed Jones.
Jones, his student and the plane will all likely go on to fly another day.